by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Fruits Basket (TV 2/2019) ?
After so much buildup surrounding the secrets that lie buried in Yuki and Kyo's hearts, a few days' vacation at a cabin in the woods washes away their worries in an unexpected anti-climax. It may frustrate viewers to see Fruits Basket diffuse all that tension in favor of cute animal gags and incremental character development, but considering that this series is going to run for at least 60 episodes, we'd better all get used to the teasing now and just enjoy the ride. As Tohru and the boys casually return to their status quo, the show's attention shifts instead to a different trio, as we finally begin to see what the stoic Hatori gets out of his awkward friendship with the two most self-indulgent Zodiac members.
But before delving into the dragon doctor's love life woes, I do want to touch on the kernels of insight we gain into our three leads in this episode, despite their reticence to share their true feelings. Kyo remains tight-lipped about how the visit to Kyoko's grave has affected him, but Yuki does almost spill his guts about the baseball cap before a different memory tied to the hat stops his courage. For a few fleeting seconds, we catch a glimpse of kindergartner Kyo staring little Yuki down as the hat blows between them in the autumn air. This tells us that not only are both Yuki and Kyo aware of the hat's significance to Tohru, they also both know everything the other knows about that incident, and something about that uncomfortable truth makes it difficult for Yuki to speak his mind about it. Frankly, you'll just tie your brain in knots trying to predict how both of these boys could be involved with the hat or why it would mean as much to them as it does to Tohru, so we just have to accept their shared lie about catching a summer bug for now, with the knowledge that this state of emotional constipation between them can't go on forever.
More importantly, Tohru's reaction to their brooding reveals much more about her own insecurities, and how her relationship to the Somas has already changed her for the better. Our heroine's persistent curiosity about others' feelings has been integral to helping her friends come out of their shells, but this charming aspect of her personality can also be a double-edged sword. As the polar opposite of a Puckish shit-stirrer like Shigure, Tohru blames herself and switches into a panicked placation mode when faced with unresolved tension between her friends, forcing herself to take undue responsibility for the discord in the air that sets off her sensitive nerves. If Tohru wasn't such an empathetic soul, this habit would probably cast her as a very different archetype, the kind of Stepfordian person who enforces peace though false positivity to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. That's an unhealthy pattern of behavior that keeps people with serious trauma from being able to express their needs, and it can even lead the fawning peacekeeper to break under pressure, as we saw in the tragic example of Kana Soma. But because Tohru cares so deeply about everyone else's feelings above her own, her minor breakdown in the woods mostly just reminds the boys not to take her kindhearted patience with their ornery mood swings for granted.
Fortunately, after a tumble down the mountain sets Yuki and Kyo back to bickering on autopilot, we see how this self-denying habit of Tohru's has been softened by adapting to life with far more emotionally volatile teens. When she first moved into Shigure's house, Tohru was alarmed by the antagonism between the Cat and the Rat, pleading with them to stop fighting on a regular basis. But the bond of trust she's gradually formed with the Somas and the understanding she's reached about the need to accept them for all their flaws has helped her to see that the honest war raging between them is still better than any falsely enforced peace. Even though she still wants her new friends to get along, Tohru's come to realize that any fake tranquility that comes from the boys denying their true feelings is more stressful for everyone than just letting them duke it out to release that adolescent angst. Tohru's increased comfort around Yuki and Kyo at their most volatile is a small change, but it will be vital if she wants to help them recover from the true depths of darkness in their hearts that they're not yet ready to share with her. If Tohru can start applying this acceptance of the need for conflict with others to herself as well, we might even get to see her start voicing her own desires beyond the path that her mother and the Somas expected for her.
Anyway, while the main trio's role in this episode is mostly innocuous, it's still so weird to me that this chapter of the story was adapted faithfully in the 2001 anime, even though the reasons for both boys' gloomy moods had already been removed from the previous episodes. The baseball cap story and Kyo's connection to Tohru's mother were cut completely with no internal conflict for the boys to be added in their place. So as far as anime-only viewers knew back then, Yuki and Kyo really were just suffering from a random hormonal funk after visiting Kyoko's grave, with no explanation whatsoever for their thousand-yard stares! It's amazing just how much tiny exclusions like these can make a great impact on the intended setup and payoff of a narrative. Still, it's too early in the story to dump the twists behind all this pathos on the audience, so Natsuki Takaya mostly fills time by extending Yuki and Kyo's dunk-fests in between scenes with the real focus of this episode: the Mabudachi Trio.
I joked before that it's hard to understand why Hatori has maintained his friendship with Shigure and Ayame considering the gulf in their personalities, but this episode clears up that mystery by illustrating the wonderful chemistry they share as a triad. As the endlessly sacrificial hermit of the three, Hatori is very bad at recognizing his own needs, so even though Kana's happiness is something he's always wanted, her recent wedding has taken a toll on his spirit that's left him visibly exhausted. Shigure chose this mountain getaway as an excuse to get Hatori away from the estate; he's the only one with a driver's license, so he's gonna get tricked into self-care whether he likes it or not. Ayame is equally sensitive to Hatori's emotional needs, but he adopts a very different tactic from Shigure's gift of fresh air and good literature. Ayame is always impatient for his loved ones to reach the same zenith of happiness he's found by choosing to live his life out loud, which is why he's so aggressive about repairing his bond with Yuki, and the same holds true for his desire to urge Hatori into a new relationship as soon as possible. In the episode's final shot, we realize that Ayame didn't bring Kana's wedding photos to Hatori to remind him of the love he lost, but to hopefully turn his attention to a different woman—Kana's best friend Mayuko. It turns out that Tohru's homeroom teacher shares a failed romantic history with Shigure that probably taught these two Zodiac tricksters a great deal about her personality and how it might complement their friend's. Well, however their matchmaking turns out, at least we know Mayuko and Hatori would be able to relate over their irritation with Shigure!
The surprisingly nuanced conversation between the Mabudachi Trio that concludes this episode elevates it beyond what could have been a more disposable outing. Ayame offers a refreshing new perspective on the tragedy of Kana Soma by emphasizing how Hatori's pain has been taken for granted, asserting that his friend deserves even more happiness than Kana for the sacrifices he made to give her a new life unburdened by the past. If we're all being sober and mature about the situation, of course we'll take Hatori's side in his determination to put Kana's needs first, but there's something incredibly gratifying about Ayame's advice to just screw everything and do what feels right. You only live once, and Hatori needs to start looking for his own happy ending so his heart can move on from Kana. Shigure sits somewhere between these two extremes, acknowledging that Hatori's baggage will make it difficult for him to connect to someone new, but also hinting that perhaps Kana was never the kind of person who could have helped lighten Hatori's burden in the long run—maybe he'll find it even easier to fall in love with the kind of woman who can fight for a future alongside him. As of episode 15's conclusion, Hatori still isn't open to the idea of trying on a new romance, but at least we know that his two best friends have always supported him just as powerfully as they've annoyed him.
Stray Snippets Lost in Adaptation This Week: The manga originally referenced The Graduate directly when Shigure joked about Hatori stealing Kana away from the altar. (As I understand it, The Graduate was a big hit in Japan as well.) Beyond that fun detail, there was just one notable scene cut from the source material, where Ayame offers to make Hatori his special blend of tea at the lakehouse. (He also stopped by Hatori's house to make him this special tea a few days before they left on vacation, which tips the doctor off that his friends must be very worried about him.) Ayame emphasizes that Shigure getting to taste his special recipe by proxy is a great honor, since he will only brew it for three people in the whole wide world. Of course, Shigure takes this as an invitation to guess at the other two people. If the first one is Hatori, and the second by default is Akito (no Zodiac member can deny him anything he asks for), then is the third Yuki? Ayame sighs that this is incorrect, because even if he did brew special tea for his little brother, it would be a waste because Yuki would never drink it. This roundabout guessing game just exists to tease that there's someone precious in Ayame's life that even his two closest friends don't yet know about. I wonder who this third special person could be?
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